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Why you can, and should, write a book

I see more people are writing a book. This is good, because it is one of those achievements you will remember many years from now. You may forget the company you work for, but you won’t forget the book you’ve written. It’s like your baby, because the amount of effort required to write it. It’s also like your children, because you can see yourself in it. Your book has more connection to you than the companies you work for, because it comes from you.

And yes, it’s a item that deserves to be in your Bucket List.

I will not kid you that writing a book is simple. It is a test of your perseverance. You will doubt yourself along the way. It is normal.

So how do you approach it?

First, learn from others. Google “why write a book” and “how to write a technical book”, and you will find plenty of lessons learned from others who have walked down that painful journey.

I gave some tips in this blog post, so I will not repeat them. Instead, I will complement and summarise the post, now that I have more experience (and pain) from it. My 2nd edition should be announced soon. No, 2nd edition is not easier for me, as I decided to expand significantly.

A book has many stages, which first time author will find overwhelming. That’s why the google in the first step is important, so you have knowledge of what you sign up for.

  1. Preparation
  2. Approach
  3. Contract & Publisher
  4. Writing
  5. Reviewing and Editing
  6. Publication & Marketing
  7. Sustaining

Preparation

If you are not sure that writing a book is for you, then test your ability and seriousness.

Have a blog. If you cannot even write 5 blogs on the same topic (of a book), you cannot write a book. A small book of 100 pages equals 25 blogs. If you cannot even write 5 blog in a month, it will be a very long journey. A blog complements your book, so it’s something you should do anyway.

Write 1 chapter. Writing a chapter is much harder than writing a series of blogs. Be a small Contributor of someone else book. Even 1 chapter, which should be around 20 pages, is not a small undertaking.

Approach

  • Work with a close friend who have published before. It is good to have a coach or leader.
  • Aim small. Just 100 pages is a good start.
  • Be clear on the Primary audience and Secondary audience. It will prevent confusion later on when you are writing.
  • Once you are ready to be the main author, try to do it alone. Working with multiple authors can have its complication.
  • Avoid content that will get outdated soon. Try not to tie to a specific version of products. Products such as VSAN changes every 6 months!
  • Develop a Table of Content. For every chapter, write 3-7 points it will cover. It should not have too few points or too many points.

Contract & Publisher

  • Choose an Acquisition Editor (AE) that understands your topic well. I tried working with a large Publisher that knows VMware very well. Unfortunately, they only had 1 AE, and she did not understand VMware business, let alone my topic. So I had to explain VMware, virtualization, vSphere, and then justify why vRealize Operations is a topic that readers wanted to pay. After months of trying to justify the viability of the book, I decided to go with Packt. Vinay, the AE from Packt did not need any convincing as they knew vRealize Operations.
  • Be careful with the IP. Make sure you retain the right to change publisher in your 2nd edition. This is just in case. I’m happy with Packt.
  • If your book is based on your blog or other work, check that the Publisher can accept it. Some publisher only allow 10% public content.
  • If money is important, discuss in details on the level of transparency of the royalty. You might be shocked that there is very little transparency given to you. Ask them for a sample report. Ensure they have a website where you can login and check on demand.

Writing

  • Decide the writing style. For my case, in my region a lot of readers don’t speak English well. I remember how I myself struggled with basic English when I first learned it.
  • Make it consistent. Do you use I or We or You?
  • Use the publisher template. You should be able to get one without signing a contract. If you are writing for Packt, I can pass you the template.
  • If your book needs to have content that will get outdated, try to make that part a standalone blog. You then refer to the blog in the book. It’s much easier to update a blog than a book

Reviewing and Editing

  • Since you are writing technical book, you want to minimize Time To Market. You also do not want to drag beyond 1 year as you will lose momentum. One way to speed up is to have parallel process between Technical Review and Editing. This requires more work though.
  • The editor may not be someone familiar with the topic. So be prepared for feedback that is probably not relevant. You will work with probably 5 different people in the Publisher organization.

Publication & Marketing

  • Discuss the marketing strategy with the Publisher. Be prepared that this is a different person who may not have heard your book at all.
  • Ask exactly how much money will be allocated to market your book, and where the advertisement will be placed. Remember, the Publisher is getting the lion share, often >84%.
  • Have a person for the Foreword. You should allocate 2 weeks here, as it’s not simple to write one.
  • Avoid making it your personal book. If you work for a company, make sure your senior management appreciates what you do. A book that it relevant to your work should be supported by your company.

Sustaining

  • A book is not a one off engagement between you and your audience. You have blog, twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to keep that new relationship going. Use this media to keep them updated, and also to update your content.
  • A blog is also a good place to add complementary materials. You should give all the screenshots, codes, etc. so readers can reuse them.

Be an author. You can do it.

Email tips: deleting all emails without actually deleting them

In a previous post, I shared about the “secondary inbox” concept. Essentially, it cuts down my primary inbox significantly. The diagram below shows that the “Not for me” becomes a great filter for my Inbox.

email tips 2

However, they do not solve another problem, which is some emails require follow up. That’s the problem, the word “some”. Not of all them do, so I need to delete those who do not require follow up. All I want is to press delete from my mobile phone, as I’m mobile most of the time. I do not want to move email to another folder. I just want to press delete. It’s a lot more convenient!

So I delete any emails that do not require follow up on my part. If it’s for my reference, I deleted it. If an email maybe useful in future, I deleted it. If an email is important but I do not need to act on it, I deleted it. I just base on 1 question: Do I need to act on it?

Now, you notice in the diagram above, I’ve put a Recycle icon in the Trash box. This is because it’s no longer my trash can. From time to time, normally 1x a month, I move everything in the Trash into an Archived folder. As a result, I never actually delete any emails.

Email tips: the “Not for me” folder

Despite my heavy usage of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and SocialCast (a great tool for VMware staff), I still get a lot of emails. I have used a few techniques which have helped me for years.

Earlier, I used to spend time to categorise my email. I’d mark them so I know whether they are for reference or for action. I’d also file them to different folders. After doing it for some time, I realised I spent a lot of time managing emails. I also sometimes converted some of them to Task, which taking additional time.

I’ve came up with some tips which serve me well.

First is the rule below. It redirects every emails that are not sent to me to a folder. I called this folder “Not for me“. It works on a exception basis. By default all emails are moved to “Not for me“, unless it has my name on the To: or Cc: . So yes, all the bcc emails go to this folder too, because in reality they are not for me (which is why I am in the Bcc).

email tips

This means all the group emails (emails sent to groups) are never in my inbox. There are also many broadcast emails that get filtered here too. It has helped me filter some advertisements 🙂

What about those broadcast emails sent to my name? I have to use another rule, where I hardcoded the sender or the subject. They then get redirected to “Not for me” also.

So I have 2 inbox. The real inbox is something I checked more often. The “Not for me” is my secondary inbox, and I check it less frequently.